EU, India, China try to break WTO impasse on disputes

NEW DELHI: Key members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) including European Union, India and China have come together in an attempt to break an impasse over resolving trade disputes as the US has blocked the appointment of new members to hear cases in the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB).

A paper, which is currently restricted, has suggested a multi-point agenda to reform the key body, which is at the core of the global trading system and allows a small underdeveloped country to drag giants to WTO for violation of international rules. But the Donald Trump administration’s resistance to appoint new judges has resulted in the strength falling from seven to four as replacements have not been taken place. If the deadlock continues, number of judges will fall further and the trade body is staring at a situation where it could be short of quorum.

Sources in Geneva told TOI that to address the concerns, the paper has proposed adhering to the 90-day time limit for orders and the deadline can be breached only with the complainant’s consent. Similarly, the paper has also recommended that the judgement should stick to the core issue raised in the dispute and avoid peripheral matters, which are often cited in future disputes.

Further, there is a suggestion to streamline the appointment process for judges with a limit of only one term proposed, instead of the current system of a second four-year term that is provided for. The paper has also proposed that the number of judges on the panel should also be expanded.

“The ball is now in the court of the United States. So far, it has not engaged and now a large part of the membership is expecting it to sit down and work out a solution,” said a source.

A response to the proposal, which can pave the way for one of the biggest reforms in WTO, will also signal how committed the Trump administration is to the multilateral trading system, given that it has often blamed the Geneva-based body for problems affecting the American economy.

“Lots of countries in the world are backing this. So please come, sit down and talk to us. That they haven’t done so far. Will that happen? Who knows,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters in Brussels. She also revealed that EU and Japan had sought discussions on the issue during trilateral talks but the attempt did not succeed.

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